Court Terminates International Sweepstakes Scheme
There’s a growing need for legal translation services for international mail fraud cases. In United States v. Thomas, the United States government brought suit against a group of defendants for mail fraud, attempted mail fraud, and mail fraud conspiracy in violation of U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1349. Specifically, the complaint alleged that the defendants were engaged in an unlawful mail fraud scheme in which the defendants sent false and misleading mail to thousands of individuals in Germany, the Netherlands, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Japan stating that they would win sweepstakes money in exchange for paying a processing fee. The defendants worked with translators in order to issue the fraudulent solicitations in various languages. The defendants also sent the fraudulent solicitations to U.S. citizens and then entered the individuals’ personal information into databases.
The defendants promised the recipients that they would receive prizes worth over $1 million dollars if they sent in a “processing” fee of approximately $20-$40 to the defendants. The defendants were quite successful in this fraud, obtaining approximately 4.5 million each year from unsuspecting victims around the world.
The U.S. alleged that the defendants employed an elaborate strategy in order to hide their identities. Their strategy included using four mailboxes in U.S. and Australia, forwarding payments to a central mailbox in each country, routing the payments to New York, and then driving the money across the Canadian border to Toronto to evade detection.
U.S. Files for Temporary Restraining Order
After filing the complaint, the U.S. requested that the court issue a temporary restraining order. The government also requested preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. The government sought to prevent the defendants from sending false and misleading solicitations, selling mailing lists of U.S. residents, depositing payment received from the fraud victims, and destroying records regarding the alleged mail fraud scheme. The court granted the request for a temporary restraining order, finding that there was probable cause that the defendants were violating federal law. The defendants were served with notice of the temporary restraining order and instructed to submit written responses to the court order, but certain defendants elected to ignore the court’s orders and failed to take any action whatsoever.
U.S. Obtains Preliminary Injunction
After obtaining a temporary restraining order, the U.S petitioned the court for a preliminary inunction against the defendant. At the hearing, the defendants again failed to appear or otherwise respond, and the court granted the preliminary injunction.
U.S. Obtains Default Judgment Against Defendants
The U.S. next filed a motion for default judgment against certain defendants, who had still not responded to the complaint. After considering the merits of the motion, the court granted the U.S.’s motion and entered a default judgment against the group of defendants who failed to respond to the complaint or appear in court. The court found that the defendants had been served with notice of the complaint and the subsequent motions yet failed to take any action.
In fact, the court found that the defendants’ failure to respond was willful, stating that there was no indication that the defendants’ failure to respond was “anything other than deliberate.” The court explained that when “a defendant fails to answer the complaint, a court is unable to make a determination whether the defendant has a meritorious defense to the plaintiff’s claims,” and that this fact weighed in favor of the court granting a default judgment.
U.S. Obtains Permanent Injunction Against Defendants
The court also granted the U.S.’s request for a permanent injunction. The court found that the U.S. had established all of the essential elements for mail fraud and had alleged sufficient facts that the defendants were involved in the alleged fraud. The court reasoned that allowing the defendants to continue with their fraudulent scheme would result in irreparable harm not only to the victims themselves, but to the integrity of the U.S. mail system.
Sweepstakes Banned in Certain Countries
Interestingly, there are certain countries in which sweepstakes completely illegal or subject to very tight rules and regulations. For example, all games of “chance” are banned in Sweden and Ireland (games of skill are allowed, however.) Italy requires all promotions to be registered and reviewed by Italian counsel, and a public official must also be involved in selecting a winner in Italy. In Mexico, any prize over $5,000 must be awarded in the presence of the Mexican authorities. In Canada, a promotion that runs in Quebec must be written in both English and French.
The case is United States v. Thomas et al., Case No. 18-CV-1104 decided on January 7, 2019 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Legal translators for lawyers at All Language Alliance, Inc. are available to provide certified translation services from French, Italian, Spanish, German, Japanese, Norwegian, Dutch, Swedish, and other languages to English, and from English to any foreign language. We also provide certified translation of foreign document with Apostilles that will be admissible in court.
***This translation blog article should not be construed as legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal needs.***
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